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Disability Is Everywhere: social networking, depression, colour blindness

by Simon Minty

24th March 2011

From below the written sentence and in the cracks between TV programmes, our correspondent brings us disability stories behind the stories.
Mark Zuckerberg
I finally got around to seeing The Social Network a couple of weeks ago. It's worth a look. Don't let yourself be put off by assuming it's just about geeks and Facebook, it's actually a griping film about human relationships and conflict, driven by typically sharp dialogue from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin.

In the same week I read an interview with Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2010: Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and subject of the cinema hit.
Both the film and article made me pause for a moment's reflection; it unnerved me as to how blissfully unaware I am of the true impact and influence, both good and bad, that social networking can have, even though it's still very much in its infancy.

Facebook was founded in 2004 yet has already a tenth of the world's population signed up. Twitter, which started two years later, announced it now has 200 million users on its fifth anniversary last week.

And to prove how far it has spread, many of the items in this column come from such networking services - a completely mind blowing resource with which to find serendipitous information about anything you're interested in.

A famous early adopter of new technology is Stephen Fry and I, like many millions, follow his Twitter feed. He's recently been filming a new documentary series on language, called Planet Word - the natural successor to his Fry's English Delight series on BBC Radio 4.
Stephen Fry
I was interested to see a recent tweet from him saying he was about to visit the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA to explore different sign languages. On the following day he tweeted that he was at a school in Boston discussing dyslexia. So there's two disability hits at once on a show that should be well worth tuning in for.

The series will be broadcast later in the year on BBC2 television.

I subscribe to the weekly email from the Money Saving Expert website which often has useful information about making your earnings last a little longer and go a little further.

A recent newsletter from them had two mentions of disability that caught my attention. The first, which Mr Fry might find useful, was about a new British Sign Language book from the incredibly successful For Dummies series. There was a promotion with nearly £10 off the published price but alas by the time you read this, I suspect the offer has been and gone, as there were only 50 books available with the discount.

The second mention was in respect of mental health. The website's founder, Martin Lewis, recognises that money issues can be particularly tricky if you count yourself in this group of people. Indeed, money might understandably be a cause of your mental health problems.

Supported by Mind, Rethink, CAPUK and others, the personal finance journalist has produced a free 40 page booklet advising how to handle debts when unwell. It has some specific tips for people with bipolar or depression.

A friend of mine recently posted on her Facebook page a photo of a beer can that had Braille on the top by the ring-pull. I can't read Braille but it presumably stated that it was beer. She was in Japan (pre-earthquake) when she discovered this little piece of accessible design.

I admit that initially I thought this was superfluous, as surely you can smell the difference between a beer and say a can of Coke or Fanta? But after a little consideration, assuming the Braille was correctly spelt and well positioned, it could save you opening several cans to get the right one. And if it was a sell-by date, that would make an awful lot of sense.
Colonel Gaddafi
Two people I didn't expect to write about in the same paragraph are Colonel Gaddafi and Jim Davidson. Neither are entirely popular but crucially, and legally, we should say this is for wildly different reasons.

Whilst reporting on the conflict in Libya, the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson revealed that Gaddafi has a history of depression. He said it was mentioned in the foreword of a book of Gaddafi's poems: Escape To Hell, edited by Pierre Salinger. Remarkably the book was sold out when I did a quick search on Amazon. This website suggests the depression came about as a result of his friend Saddam Hussain being toppled in 2003. Other press just regularly declare him mad.

As for Jim Davidson, he has been promoting a self-penned play called 'Stand Up and Be Counted. It's about an old school comic who is racist and homophobic and resents the new politically correct content performed by younger comedians; I've no idea where he got the idea from.

The article in which I read about the play, focused mostly on the subject of racism; something Jim is regularly accused of but vigorously denies. I was surprised that disability wasn't mentioned as there was a particularly high profile incident some years ago where he didn't want to perform his show because the front row was taken up by wheelchair users. I guess he has a few sequels to write if he is to try and make peace with all the people he has previously offended.

It should be noted that last week Jim announced on his blog that he was cancelling the show and tour because of poor sales which he blamed on the current economic climate.

Before I close, the Time article about Mark Zuckerberg which I mentioned earlier, revealed an interesting disability titbit. I have occasionally wondered where the pale blue Facebook logo came from. It is instantly recognisable so it clearly works ... but I admit to thinking it was always rather bland.

Whilst probably not strictly an impairment under UK anti-discrimination legislation at least, it seems Mark Zuckerberg is on the periphery of the disability club as he is colour blind. He has particular difficulty with red-green colours. Blue is a colour he has no problem recognising though, hence the powder blue insignia that we now know. And if you don't love it, you can instead click to say 'like' or simply 'poke' it.

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